Saturday, March 18, 2006

The French Riots

It's a different world over there. Here we seem to accept anything the administration doles out and if we don't, well, who would know about it, given the obedient media. In France people go out and demonstrate:

Huge crowds of students, trade unionists and left-wingers took to the streets across France on Saturday to put pressure on the conservative government to cancel a new law they fear will undermine job security for young workers.

In a festive mood under bright blue skies, tens of thousands turned out in Paris, Lyon and Rennes in the biggest of 160 planned demonstrations in a growing movement that has created a serious crisis for Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

Trade union crowd marshals and ranks of riot police kept discreet but watchful eyes on the crowds to avoid any repetition of the violence that marred a Paris student rally on Thursday.

The protesters demand that Villepin withdraw a new youth job contract, known as the CPE, which lets firms fire workers under 26 without explanation in their first two years on the job. He launched it to spur reluctant employers to take on new staff.

"I risk working for two years for nothing, just to be fired at any moment," said Paris student Coralie Huvet, 20, who had "No to the CPE" written on her forehead. Pointing to painted-on tears, she added: "That's depressing, that's why I'm crying."

Organizers, who decry the CPE as a "Kleenex contract" that lets young workers be "thrown away like a paper tissue," said they hoped to have up to 1.5 million people out marching in the third national protest in six weeks.

France's main trade union leaders led the Paris march, followed by dancing and singing high school and university students and then ranks of workers.

Opposition Socialist and Communist politicians also joined the protest, only the third time in almost four decades -- after 1968 and 1994 -- that students and workers marched together.

Many parents accompanied their children in the march, where banners declared "No to throw-away youths" and "Tired Of Being Squeezed Lemons."

In the United States lots of workers can be thrown away like used Kleenex, of course, or at least squeezed very dry like lemons.

The rationale for the French government's policy is to make the young more employable by taking away the risk that an untried worker might not prove satisfactory and that the firm might then be stuck with that person. But the new policy would make it difficult for the young to plan for their own futures or to decide to have children, say. They are left with the risk of being fired, even if the firing has nothing to do with their own competence at the job, and if I were one of those young people I'd postpone marriage and children until I'm past the vulnerable age limit. So all this could backfire on the French conservative policy of having more white babies and stuff.

Saturday Chores

I'm going out to buy some maple for a shelf to run on the wall behind my desk. I already bought the uprights for it at IKEA! It's going to be beautiful and the snakes can sleep there if they wish. It will make my study look professional and busy. The other walls are full of bookshelves and I have nowhere to put the stuff that is on my desk right now.

While I'm at the store I'm also going to buy some new screws for my pot shelf in the kitchen. It came crashing down last night and scared the dogs.

The problem of house maintenance is entropy. The kitchen that I mostly built myself (except for the floor) needs redoing. It was fun to do it the first time around, to measure the exact number of steps I take to make coffee, and to design everything perfectly. But the second time around it's my own mistakes I'm correcting (like the tiled countertops which never stay grouted) and it's no longer fun. I'm beginning to think that I should sell the Snakepit Inc. and start again with someone else's mistakes.

There is also a new shower head to be installed. I bought it last summer, and it has been sitting in the upstairs hall staring at me with horrible guilt-inducing eyes.

The Sudden Moments of Clarity

I had one of those when I went over to the Eschaton to read what Atrios has dug up today. One of the posts was about some wingnut woman telling us that women must have more children and less fun having sex without consequences, and another post was about the preparation for a new war against Iran and the lying that must be carefully turned into facts first. I had one of those click moments, moments when you actually see a theory turned into facts.

Here we have the militant type of patriarchy preparing to waste more lives of young men and here we have the same patriarchy telling women to make more young men to kill this way.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Claudia Goldin on the "Opt-Out" Revolution and Some Ranting

Goldin is an emerita professor of economics and a very competent researcher, so what she writes about the supposed "opt-out" revolution of educated women is well worth reading:

But the facts speak loudly and clearly against such suppositions. Women who graduated 25 years ago from the nation's top colleges did not "opt out" in large numbers, and today's graduates aren't likely to do so either.

To know whether a woman sacrificed career for her family, we need to know her employment status over many years. The Mellon Foundation did just that in the mid-1990's, collecting information on more than 10,000 women (and 10,000 men) who entered one of 34 highly selective colleges and universities in 1976 and graduated by 1981. We thus have detailed data about their educational, family and work histories when they were in their late 30's. That gives us enough information to figure out whether many women who graduated from top-ranked schools have left the work force.

Among these women fully 58 percent were never out of the job market for more than six months total in the 15 or so years that followed college or more advanced schooling. On average, the women in the survey spent a total of just 1.6 years out of the labor force, or 11 percent of their potential working years. Just 7 percent spent more than half of their available time away from employment.

These women were, moreover, committed not just to their careers. They were also wives and mothers — 87 percent of the sample had been married, 79 percent were still married 15 years after graduation and 69 percent had at least one child (statistics that are similar to national ones for this demographic group from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey). Women with at least one child spent a total of 2.1 years on average out of the labor force, or 14 percent of their potential time. Fifty percent of those with children never had a non-employment (non-educational) spell lasting more than 6 months.

You could argue that they opted out of their careers in more subtle ways, say, by choosing less demanding careers than those for which they had trained. But the occupation data for these women suggest otherwise. Women in these graduating classes stuck with their specialties to about the same degree as did comparable men. The vast majority of women who went to medical school were employed as doctors when in their late 30's; similarly, women who received law degrees were practicing lawyers.

What about more recent graduates, those who finished school 10 years ago and are, today, in their early 30's? It is too early to tell for sure, but there are strong hints that little has changed on the opt-out front. Statistics from the National Vital Statistics System show that highly educated women today are having babies even later in life on average than did the entering class of 1976 (and are having more of them). The Current Population Survey tells us that the percentage of college-educated women in their 30's who work has been high (in the 80 percent range) and fairly constant since the early 1990's, although the percentage dropped a bit — along with that of their male counterparts in the recent economic slump.

The fraction in their late 30's who are married, moreover, is around 75 percent and has not budged in the last 25 years. Taken together, the facts — later babies, more babies, high and fairly constant employment rates, stable marriage rates — don't spell big opt-out to me. And they don't spell big opt-out change either.

But this will have no impact on the conversations about this topic. For some reason the question what women are allowed to do is of eternal interest to all participants. The question what men are allowed to do, not so much. Sometimes this works to women's advantage, but mostly we feel like we are always under the microscope, always studied for trends that might hurt the "society" (which somehow doesn't include us), always regardes as the "others".

To see what I mean with that mini-rant, consider the number of pages that comes out every year about mummy wars or the opt-out revolution or the death of feminism or how women are inherently weaker in this or that aspect. Underlying all this is the fear that what women might do could destroy the Western civilization or cause the extinction of white people or liberals or some such group.

Then consider how we practically never discuss the fact that the vast majority of prison inmates are men, that the vast majority of violence and wars is carried out by men and so on. This isn't seen as threatening the survival of civilizations or people, for some odd reason. It's just how things are. But what women do is a cause for worry.

A Question on Book Reviews

Would you, my dear and erudite readers, have any interest in book reviews? The cunning plot I have has to do with getting free books to satisfy my inordinate thirst for reading materials, and I have opinions on everything, of course.

But I wouldn't inflict reviews on you unless it was voluntary.

Interesting Irish History

When did the gays attack the Irish? According to John Dunleavy, this must have happened in the past, because he equates the gays possibly marching in the St. Patrick's day parade with neo-Nazis marching with Israeli groups:

The man in charge of Manhattan's St. Patrick's Day parade has fueled a controversy by saying allowing a gay group to join Friday's march would be like permitting neo-Nazis to participate in an Israeli parade.

In an interview with The Irish Times, parade committee chairman John Dunleavy defended the organizers' decision to bar the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization from participating in the biggest St. Patrick's Day party in the world.

"If an Israeli group wants to march in New York, do you allow neo-Nazis into their parade? If African-Americans are marching in Harlem, do they have to let the Ku Klux Klan into their parade?" Dunleavy was quoted as saying.

Glad to hear that bigotry is alive and well all over the world.

Friday Funnies

Just click.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day, Sandra!

I'm wearing all green and a shamrock brooch in honor of all the Irish getting drunk today. What's Irish sexual foreplay, by the way? "Brrrrace yerself, Bridget!" Just kidding, just kidding.

Sandra O'Connor, the first woman selected to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the first woman (of two total, probably) to leave it gave a speech some days ago. This wasn't much discussed in the United States, but the U.K. Guardian wrote about it and the lefty blogosphere talked about it, except for me. So now I will talk about it, all alone and too late. Though usually I'm too early with the news, I've noticed. The trick is to lead, but just by a nose.

In any case, Sandra is concerned about the wingnuts:

Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican-appointed judge who retired last month after 24 years on the supreme court, has said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University, reported by National Public Radio and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Ms O'Connor took aim at Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could, she said, be contributing to a climate of violence against judges.

Ms O'Connor, nominated by Ronald Reagan as the first woman supreme court justice, declared: "We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary."

She pointed to autocracies in the developing world and former Communist countries as lessons on where interference with the judiciary might lead. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

I wonder what she thinks about her decision to enable the selection of George Bush in 2000, because that is what got the whole conservative hatefest going. Decisions have consequences as the wingnuts always tell us.

An Interesting Map

Via Kos, this map by Radical Russ shows how Bush's approval ratings go down over time. It's going to make you feel good.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Money Question

How much money is this administration wasting? How much of it is going into the pockets of corporations who are friends with the administration? How can we even find out about all this?

A small start is the General Accountability Office (GAO). It has just come out with a new report on how the government spent money to help with Katrina's aftermath:

The government wasted millions of dollars in its award of post-Katrina contracts for disaster relief, including at least $3 million for 4,000 beds that were never used, federal auditors said Thursday.

The contracts for disaster relief were largely offered without any competition. Think about that: the people who worship the god of markets hand contracts out without any competition. Because speed was of the essence, naturally, and because there was no preparation that would have made this speed automatic in a bidding process. Because nobody could anticipate the levees would break.

But all this is just pennies compared to what is going on in Iraq. The trillion dollar adventure must benefit someone, and I'd really like to see a good study about where it is all going.
Added later: The federal debt is now 30,000 dollars per each American.

Today's Tasteless Song

It's really tasteless, but I have posted all desolation recently and this might work as something funny. It's the Song of Limbaugh.

News From the Uterus Wars

First, some South Dakota politicans explain, carefully and patiently, why they had to ban all abortion except when the woman's life is at risk:

Roger Hunt, the state legislator who sponsored the bill, doesn't think there's much chance of that happening.

"A lot of this discussion about back-alley abortions are myths that were created," said Mr. Hunt, a 68-year-old Baptist lawyer, who said he's never seen reliable statistics on illegal abortions. "The fear that we're going to have women dying in coat-hanger abortions are largely figments of the imagination."

Mr. Hunt also does not think much of the complaints that the bill is too restrictive -- it would allow abortions only if the life of the mother were at risk. Doctors who perform abortions would be subject to fines of $5,000 and jail terms of up to five years.

In drafting the law, Mr. Hunt said he avoided an exception for threats to the mother's health because pro-choice advocates would seize on it to perform abortions on women with emotional, psychological or even financial problems. "It would be a barn door large enough to drive any abortion through it," he said.

The same goes for exceptions in the case of rape and incest. "Three months later, a woman could go into an abortion clinic and say she was raped," Mr. Hunt said. "Who's going to force her to prove it? It would be a fraud on the system."

Mrs. Unruh agrees. "Rape is a horrible, horrible crime, but so is an abortion," she said. "Most of the women getting abortions are not rape and incest [victims]. It's people who use it as birth control and women who are being pressured" to end their pregnancies.

Mr. Hunt has been proposing anti-abortion bills to the legislature ever since he was first elected in 1991. One bill that passed has determined that an unborn child can be a crime victim. That means if a pregnant woman is killed in a hit-and-run accident in South Dakota, the perpetrator is charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter.

Mr. Hunt even sees economic benefits from banning abortion in South Dakota, noting that there are an average of 800 of the procedures a year. If those babies had been born, the state wouldn't be facing the same demographic crisis of falling school enrolment in rural areas and economic decline, he said.

And it would be a boon to adoptive parents. "People are going to Asia, Central and South America to adopt children? Why not have them adopted here?"

Read that again, to find out what Mr. Hunt thinks about women and their suffering, and how the embryos are privileged over all that, except when they get to help the South Dakota state or the adoption industries. This is sickening stuff, medears.

Second, the state of Missouri is joining in the happy building of Talibans all across America:

An attempt to resume state spending on birth control got shot down Wednesday by House members who argued it would have amounted to an endorsement of promiscuous lifestyles.

Missouri stopped providing money for family planning and certain women's health services when Republicans gained control of both chambers of the Legislature in 2003.

But a Democratic lawmaker, in a little-noticed committee amendment, had successfully inserted language into the proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 that would have allowed part of the $9.2 million intended for "core public health functions" to go to contraception provided through public health clinics.

The House voted 96-59 to delete the funding for contraception and infertility treatments after Rep. Susan Phillips told lawmakers that anti-abortion groups such as Missouri Right to Life were opposed to the spending.

"If you hand out contraception to single women, we're saying promiscuity is OK as a state, and I am not in support of that," Phillips, R-Kansas City, said in an interview.

Banning contraception more generally is indeed in the Republican platform. Some still can't believe that. I guess they believe it when the morals and vice police comes for their own condoms.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

And Still Skipping Towards The Abyss

The neo-cons are, and they are going to take all of us with them, whether we wish to (the Rapture crowd) or not (sane people). This skipping is called the reaffirmation of the preemption strategy:

President Bush plans to issue a new national security strategy today reaffirming his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, despite the troubled experience in Iraq.

The long-delayed document, an articulation of U.S. strategic priorities that is required by law, lays out a robust view of America's power and an assertive view of its responsibility to bring change around the world. On topics including genocide, human trafficking and AIDS, the strategy describes itself as "idealistic about goals and realistic about means."

The strategy expands on the original security framework developed by the Bush administration in September 2002, before the invasion of Iraq. That strategy shifted U.S. foreign policy away from decades of deterrence and containment toward a more aggressive stance of attacking enemies before they attack the United States.

The preemption doctrine generated fierce debate at the time, and many critics believe the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has fatally undermined an essential assumption of the strategy -- that intelligence about an enemy's capabilities and intentions can be sufficiently reliable to justify preventive war.

In his revised version, Bush offers no second thoughts about the preemption policy, saying it "remains the same" and defending it as necessary for a country in the "early years of a long struggle" akin to the Cold War. In a nod to critics in Europe, the document places a greater emphasis on working with allies and declares diplomacy to be "our strong preference" in tackling the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

"If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," the document continues. "When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize."

So Iran is next. Note that North Korea gets a pass because they already have nuclear weapons. The lesson in all this is clear: get your own nuclear weapons and Bush will leave you alone. Don't get them, and he will attack, in a preemptive way, natch. WMDs can be imagined, if need be.

And where are we going to get the military to attack Iran with? Or are we just going to bomb them back to stone age? Wasn't that what was advocated before the Iraq invasion, too?

I never imagined that I might get to experience the Third World War, but it's beginning to look quite likely.

Added later: But not all journalists seem to agree on what this document means. Caroline Daniel:

The White House will on Thursday back away from the use of pre-emptive military strikes against perceived terrorist threats.

However, it will harden its rhetoric against Russia, China and notably Iran, in the first formal review of foreign policy since the invasion of Iraq.

The National Security Strategy, published on Thursday, presents the first significant revision of the landmark 2002 document.

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country than Iran," the new strategy says, citing Tehran's nuclear ambitions. "The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq."

It says "transformational democracy" remains the overriding aim, in spite of rising criticism that the invasion of Iraq has been an expensive military and political failure.

But the concept of "coalitions of the willing" – the philosophy blamed for fracturing the transatlantic alliance and undermining the UN – is notably absent, and America's military strength is barely mentioned.


Instead, it says: "We must be prepared to act alone if necessary, while recognising that there is little of lasting consequence that we can accomplish without the sustained co-operation of our allies and partners."

Sounds like the same thing to me. If you like, we could call it tiptoeing towards the abyss as a form of a gentler, kinder descent into WWIII.

Of No Importance But

It is indeed possible to have too many chocolate mints at one sitting.

The Death of Feminism

It has been announced many times, prematurely, but this time the announcement is not just of the unfortunate demise of feminism but of the genocide it is causing. Yes, indeed, feminism is causing us liberals and progressives to die out altogether, and guess who is going to inherit the earth? Correct, the Talibanists and the radical wingnut clerics, and their supreme advantage is....patriarchy's return!!!

Patriarchy is making a comeback, especially in the liberal regions of the world. This according to Philip Longman whose editorial in the USA Today explains why:

What's the difference between Seattle and Salt Lake City? There are many differences, of course, but here's one you might not know. In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs.

This curious fact might at first seem trivial, but it reflects a much broader and little-noticed demographic trend that has deep implications for the future of global culture and politics. It's not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City. It's that progressives are so much less likely to have children.

It's a pattern found throughout the world, and it augers a far more conservative future — one in which patriarchy and other traditional values make a comeback, if only by default. Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists. As a consequence, an increasing share of all children born into the world are descended from a share of the population whose conservative values have led them to raise large families.

I'm a dying breed, I am. Or I would be if I wasn't an immortal divine. But the rest of you lot, you are a dying breed. You are losing the evolutionary race, my friends, and you are losing it to people who don't believe in evolution! That's the survival of the fittest for you.

Longman's editorial is a condensed form of a much longer piece he has written, entitled "The Return of Patriarchy". That one gives us a lot more about why patriarchy is inevitable (wasn't that a book by someone, too?):

Patriarchal societies come in many varieties and evolve through different stages. What they have in common are customs and attitudes that collectively serve to maximize fertility and parental investment in the next generation. Of these, among the most important is the stigmatization of "illegitimate" children. One measure of the degree to which patriarchy has diminished in advanced societies is the growing acceptance of out-of-wedlock births, which have now become the norm in Scandinavian countries, for example.

Under patriarchy, "bastards" and single mothers cannot be tolerated because they undermine male investment in the next generation. Illegitimate children do not take their fathers' name, and so their fathers, even if known, tend not to take any responsibility for them. By contrast, "legitimate" children become a source of either honor or shame to their fathers and the family line. The notion that legitimate children belong to their fathers' family, and not to their mothers', which has no basis in biology, gives many men powerful emotional reasons to want children, and to want their children to succeed in passing on their legacy. Patriarchy also leads men to keep having children until they produce at least one son.

Another key to patriarchy's evolutionary advantage is the way it penalizes women who do not marry and have children. Just decades ago in the English-speaking world, such women were referred to, even by their own mothers, as spinsters or old maids, to be pitied for their barrenness or condemned for their selfishness. Patriarchy made the incentive of taking a husband and becoming a full-time mother very high because it offered women few desirable alternatives.

Let's look at some of these arguments in greater detail, while we are waiting to die out:

"Patriarchal societies come in many varieties and evolve through different stages. What they have in common are customs and attitudes that collectively serve to maximize fertility and parental investment in the next generation."

Why would patriarchal societies maximize fertility over some other types of societies? What other types of societies? Longman provides us no real evidence to back this assertion, though I can speculate that he means that patriarchy forces women to keep on having children and forces them to focus on these children nonstop. But what about the father's investments? Why would patriarchy make them greater? Why would fathers care about their family lines more when they are patriarchs than when they are not? And would maximizing fertility, if true, mean that survival of the future generations is also maximized? I doubt it. There is a fairly clear conflict between having a very large number of children and then trying to bring them up to adulthood. The reason for high fertility rates in the past had less to do with patriarchy than the fact that infant and childhood mortality rates were correspondingly high, too.

"The notion that legitimate children belong to their fathers' family, and not to their mothers', which has no basis in biology, gives many men powerful emotional reasons to want children, and to want their children to succeed in passing on their legacy. Patriarchy also leads men to keep having children until they produce at least one son."

Here is a partial answer to some of my questions. Longman thinks that men don't want to have children, and that they must be forced to want to have them. Making them bosses will somehow be adequate compensation, especially if there are sons to reproduce the boss in future generations. But only if the sons can be given the father's name.

Let's see if I get this: Patriarchy will be making a comeback because it corrals reluctant men to be the bosses of large families so that they can pretend the children have nothing in common with the genes of their mothers, and because women are forced to be either supermothers, prostitutes or nuns. All this gives the patriarchal families a competitive advantage in our post-industrial information based and education-intensive societies, right?

But Longman also has a thesis which is about the modern era, not about some bizarre way of interpreting the past. This thesis sounds familiar: a lot like the fears of the white supremacists that the "muddy people" will take over the world, or like the fears of some Americans in the early twentieth century about the Catholic menace and so on:

We may witness a similar transformation during this century. In Europe today, for example, how many children different people have, and under what circumstances, correlates strongly with their beliefs on a wide range of political and cultural attitudes. For instance, do you distrust the army? Then, according to polling data assembled by demographers Ronny Lesthaeghe and Johan Surkyn, you are less likely to be married and have kids—or ever to get married and have kids—than those who say they have no objection to the military. Or again, do you find soft drugs, homosexuality, and euthanasia acceptable? Do you seldom, if ever, attend church? For whatever reason, people answering affirmatively to such questions are far more likely to live alone, or in childless, cohabitating unions, than those who answer negatively.

The great difference in fertility rates between secular individualists and religious or cultural conservatives augurs a vast, demographically driven change in modern societies. Consider the demographics of France, for example. Among French women born in the early 1960s, less than a third have three or more children. But this distinct minority of French women (most of them presumably practicing Catholics and Muslims) produced more than 50 percent of all children born to their generation, in large measure because so many of their contemporaries had one child or none at all.

This is a different argument because it doesn't rely on the supposed evolutionary superiority of patriarchy but on stuff like saying that the minority of French women who have three or more children are "presumably" practicing Catholics and Muslims. Not that we seem to know if this is true. The few sources of evidence Longman cites must be the only ones he can get hold of, by the way, as they appear in all the articles he has written on this topic.

But the thesis is a common one, and it has to do with the idea that people who don't outbreed others will have their values die out. Either these values are genetically passed on (?) or the early family inculcation is so strong that nothing afterwards will change the person's political views. This doesn't quite explain how new values come to be created and shared, and it doesn't explain where feminism, say, came from, given the universality of patriarchies in the past.

Longman ignores the impact of education and income on the number of children people will have. Immigrants to Europe and the United States will have lower fertility rates as their income and education levels rise. This is a direct consequence of the expense of having children in a society which relies on high levels of education in its workforce.

He also ignores the fact that patriarchy appears to be quite compatible with very low fertility rates. Take Japan, for example. The Japanese society is still fairly patriarchal but the Japanese fertility rates have been below replacement levels for fifty years. Maybe feminism somehow affects fertility rates with long-distance telepathic rays? That could be the next article in Longman's series on patriarchy.
I was first introduced to Longman's work by a new blog, Daddy Dialectic. Check it out.

Your Daily Bran

Or your daily Rush Limbaugh:

In discussing a March 12 appearance on ABC's This Week by journalists Jay Carney and Claire Shipman, who are married to each other, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh characterized their relationship as "slave owner and husband." Limbaugh, who made his comments during the March 13 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, then restated: "I take it back, slave master, not slave owner." Carney is Time magazine's deputy Washington bureau chief, and Shipman is the senior national correspondent for ABC's Good Morning America..

As Media Matters has documented, Limbaugh recently referred to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) as sounding like a "screeching ex-wife." On the February 21 broadcast of his show, Limbaugh said that Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter is "a girl" and claimed that Jack Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter, "has been castrated by the feminization of this culture."

The title of this post is my feeble attempt to justify posting about Limbaugh's misogynisms. Reading him is like adding something non-nutritious to your diet to speed things along. Though his opinions are also held by others among the wingnuts, and it's always good to know what your enemy is thinking. Or not, as the case may be.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Looking For A Few Good Women...

To man the progressive media positions. See how I snuck "to man" in there? The impetus for this post comes from Carolyn who posted a list of men and women in progressive media and then posted the same list on Kos and on Democratic Underground. The few responses were interesting, to say the least, and the three e-mail messages Carolyn posts are thoughtworthy, too, though perhaps not in the sense their writers intend.

Carolyn's lists make the point that there are many more men in the progressive media than there are women. Her lists are not comprehensive or scientifically created and she omits bloggers, for example, but nobody would argue that a carefully done study would find more women than men among the progressive pundits.

Why are there not more women? And does it matter? Perhaps not to this e-mail writer:

The lists almost made me laugh. First of all, the vast majority of men listed I have never even heard of! Me, a dyed in the wool liberal media wonk. Contrarily, I have at least a passing acquaintance of almost all of the women. What that list also tells me, is that the opportunity for a woman to break into the progressive media as a woman is a hell of a lot easier than for a man! Think about that, "you" have only a few women to compete against, men have a lot more other men. Before you say, "But 'I' am also competing against the men." that would only hold true if "you" were gender blind, and the hiring authorities were. Obviously, neither are.

See! It's easier to be a progressive female pundit! You get to compete in the pink category and you don't have to be as good as the boys. Plus, you get to be more famous.

The major problem with this argument is that it would only work if all the employers had fifty percent of their jobs earmarked for women and fifty percent for men, and if they really only looked at people of one sex when they are hiring and if women really are less qualified to begin with. Lots of ifs there.

Another e-mail writer explains the relative scarcity of women as a natural result of women not applying for the good pundit jobs. Women are not interested in politics, or women are not trained in journalism or women are busy taking care of babies. Perhaps, though the majority of journalism graduates are now women, so the argument that women are not adequately trained doesn't wash. Whether women are less interested in politics is a tricky question to answer, because we have framed politics in a way which doesn't have to be. Politics doesn't have to be about two moose attacking each other with the hoary antlers clashing, it doesn't have to be about humiliating the opponents, it doesn't have to be all about baseball metaphors or war metaphors or about corruption. Politics could be defined as the management of common matters, and I bet that many women would be interested in that. In any case, there are women who like to clash antlers, too, and men who do not. The taking-care-of-babies argument is always used for women's absence from every possible field, except for childrearing but even there the experts appear to be men, so I wouldn't take it terribly seriously. After all, babies don't stay babies for the woman's lifetime.

I'm not sure why there aren't more women telling all of us what to think. I'm doing my little share to change that. But it would be possible to do a proper study to find out what keeps women from becoming the soul of the progressive media.

But maybe we shouldn't have such a study. The last e-mailer to Carolyn might think so:

It must be terrible to be so insecure and have such low self-esteem. All you feminists are alike. You feel so very threatened and intimidated by anything that is male-dominated. Why is that? People like you make me ashamed and embarrassed to be a woman. I couldn't care less if something is dominated by males. How come it bothers you so much? What is the big deal? Who cares? You and your ilk act as if it is always a bad thing for something to be male-dominated. What is really pathetic about you is that you act as if you live in some fantasy world where you expect everything to be equal. People are not equal. They never have been, and they never will be. As much as you hate to admit it, men and women are DIFFERENT! THEY ARE NOT EQUAL! The world has never been equal for everybody and it never will be. Why can't you accept that and stop living in a dream world?...

Ok. I better go out and have my breasts replaced by inflatable balloons.

Winning The Hearts and the Pineal Glands of Americans

George Bush tells us how he is winning the minds and hearts of Iraqis. We might not want to go there, but winning some minds and hearts of Americans would be a good thing for the liberals and for this planet, too. I see a need for a three-pronged attack and so far all we are doing at all is the mind attack: we are trying to get the facts out, to get them noticed and to get them discussed. We produce statistics, we point out errors, we explain, over and over again, what is wrong with the policies of the current administration.

All this is useful. It's important to understand what is happening, to engage the minds of the citizens. But it's not enough. We also need to engage the hearts of the citizens, by making them care about our message, and we need to engage the spiritual parts of their bodies, what I call the pineal glands for lack of a better word. And no, the better word is not religion, because then we get into the field of organized religion and there we crash straight into the stone wall that is fundamentalism, the Only Real Religion in the media these days.

In short, we need to bring up emotions and spiritual context. We need to remind Americans that we have great ethics, strong consciences, courage and love for this country. We need to tell them that we care about our neighbors, that we care about this wonderful world and the plants and animals in it, that we care about the future, that we care about peace and prosperity and that we are strong in the defense of all good things.

We need to steal a leaf from Ronald Reagan's guidebook, and we can do this stealing with good consciences because we actually do stand for a new dawn in America, honesty, optimism and real faith: faith in the ability of this country to do the right thing. And we need to be proud of our message while doing all this. Liberals are liberal: open and expansive, warm and embracing, strong and upright. Liberals are also adults: good guardians of the wealth of this country, including its natural abundance, and liberals are protectors and defenders of its citizens, all of them. Liberals believe in the spirit of the American people, believe that Americans can do better, rise higher, be fairer.

Now, this makes my heart beat faster and my pineal gland open up towards the skies. It makes me feel good, and it's even true, at least as a goal and an ideal. We could go there, you know. But instead we get the emotional appeal of fear, fear and more fear from the Republicans, we get more and more restrictions on what and how we are allowed to be, and we get instructions on how to store cans of tuna under our beds instead of the protection we deserve. Why don't we offer a real alternative to all that fearmongering and futile attempts to stop pandemics or hurricanes with duct tape and cans of tuna under the bed?

As Digby points out in an excellent post, this is how we should criticize the administration:

This is an election about throwing the bums out and Democrats need to make a clear statement of fundamental values, not policy differences. Some strategists insist that Democrats must adopt the religious code words that Republicans use to signal character and values to evangelical voters. I would suggest that all Americans, religious and secular alike, share a language that is full of words that describe character and values. How about we start using some plain English words like unethical, dishonest, unfair, untrustworthy, dishonorable and lies. I think everybody can understand what those mean.

So true. And it is not just a question of using a different framing from the one the wingnuts use, because if we talk about the framing we are still in the domain of the mind, not talking to the hearts or the pineal glands (and yes, that was a poor choice for a term). Anybody can tell when words are inserted for purely framing reasons. If the emotions and the spirit are not there, the message falls flat. We need to be real liberals, brave enough to open our minds so that the hearts and the pineal glands can also be heard, brave enough to talk will the totality of our beings. Nothing less will turn the political tide.

The Democrats' Disease

I can't help my brain going round and round, like a squirrel on a wheel, trying to understand the deeper meaning of the Democratic party's overall strategy of trying to look like neutered wingnuts, even though it's a pointless exercize. But within this context Ari Berman's piece in the Nation is interesting. For example:

On the advice of top party consultants, the Democrats in the run-up to the 2006 midterm vote are either ignoring Iraq and shifting to domestic issues (the strategy in the 2002 midterm elections) or supporting the war while criticizing Bush's handling of it (the strategy in the 2004 presidential election). Three years into the conflict most Democrats can finally offer a cogent critique of how the Bush Administration misled the American people and mismanaged the Iraqi occupation, but they're unwilling or unable to suggest clearly how the United States should extricate itself from that mess.

To be sure, some highly visible leaders of the party, including Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, have publicly advocated an end to the war. "We do need to make it clear to the American people that after this savaging we've taken at the hands of [Karl] Rove, we are going to stand up for the country and that we have a better plan," Dean told The Nation. "We're not going to make a permanent commitment to a failed strategy, which is what Bush has actually done." But even Dean and Pelosi have done little within party channels to push for a change in position among their prowar colleagues. For now, many prominent Democrats continue to follow the advice of the party's risk-averse consultants and foreign policy intelligentsia--a cautious tack that is unlikely to satisfy voters' desire for change on the crucial issue of the day.

Bolds are mine. So it could be that the Democrats are out of touch, or it could be that I am out of touch. I'd like to think the latter, because we really need a new administration if we want to save this world, but I don't really think that I'm as clueless as all that. Sure, the majority of Americans don't follow politics very much and sure, we have a fairly large wingnut minority, and sure, it's even true that people on the liberal and lefty blogs are not a cross-section of the country. But facts are facts. Iraq is going down the drain and Americans don't want the troops to be there any longer. And I don't believe that the majority of Americans want to hand this country completely to corporations. The majority doesn't want a banana republic with a polluted environment or a Taliban type theocracy. The majority doesn't want a bloated government which still can't cope with the aftermaths of a hurricane, which keeps sucking up all the money and keeps telling us that it must go to refunding of estate taxes or back to the pockets of the superrich and that we have no money left to cover retirement or health care or the education of our children. And the majority is not happy with the total incompetence of this administration.

Which parts of this are the Democrats going to use when they run later this year? Any of it at all? Help me out here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

In A Nutshell

This is what is wrong with the Democratic party:

Democrats distanced themselves Monday from Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold's effort to censure President Bush over domestic spying, maneuvering to prevent a vote that could alienate swing voters. Republicans dared Democrats to vote for the proposal.

How would the censure alienate swing voters? Has any establishment Democrat looked at the recent polls on Bush's unpopularity? The majority of this country wants him censured. Who are these elusive swing voters that the Democrats are chasing? This is batshit crazy.

Lieberman Is A Compassionate Conservative

Never mind that he is nominally a Democrat (or DINO as they are called). Firedoglake reports Joe's views on whether Catholic hospitals can refuse to give rape victims emergency contraceptives:

In Connecticut, rape counseling activists say a recent study concludes that about 20% of state hospitals routinely refuses to offer emergency contraceptives to rape victims who are determined to be ovulating at the time they're attacked. A proposed bill would require them to do so.

And what sayith Holy Joe about this? According to The New Haven Register:

This fight isn't exclusively being drawn along party lines.

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who often takes a conservative line on social issues, is facing a liberal Democratic primary challenge from wealthy Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont. But that hasn't stopped Lieberman from supporting the approach of the Catholic hospitals when it comes to contraceptives for rape victims.

Lieberman said he believes hospitals that refuse to give contraceptives to rape victims for "principled reasons" shouldn't be forced to do so. "In Connecticut, it shouldn't take more than a short ride to get to another hospital," he said.

I love the term "principled reasons". All my reasons are principled, and I suspect that most people find their reasons principled. It would be principled to refuse to treat gays, say, if you, in principle, disapprove of the gay lifestyle (whatever that might be). It's just a hop, skip and a jump to another hospital in Connecticut. Never mind if you are suffering from the after-effects of a hate crime.

And it's a hop, skip and a jump to a rape victim, too. Once she gets over those crying jags and that cowering away from any man around and once she can remember her name and her address again and once they staunch the blood that is still flowing from her vagina. Then she can just go to another hospital for the next item that is on her to-do list: some emergency contraception. That, my dears, is compassionate conservatism. Compassionate to the hospital, conservative to its resource use.

If a hospital finds itself unable, in principle, to provide the services that a rape victim needs to have, that hospital, in principle, and in actual fact should not be in the emergency medicine business. It really is that simple.

The PR War

If the wingnuts believe that the Iraq war will succeed or fail based on purely its PR image, what would they do when the news in Iraq are really bad? That's it: have the president launch a PR counterattack! All is clear as water:

Bush is engaging in a public relations offensive on Iraq amid increasing worries in the American public. Only 39% of Americans support the way the president has handled Iraq, according to the latest AP-Ipsos poll. Nearly four out of five Americans, including 70% of Republicans, believe civil war will break out in Iraq, the poll showed.

Bush chose to focus in his opening speech on Iraqi security forces. He said that even though they need more training, they "turned in a strong performance" in the wake of the mosque bombing — which the president said was intended by insurgents to provoke a civil war.

"From the outset, Iraqi forces understood that if they failed to stand for national unity, the country would slip into anarchy," Bush said. "And so they stood their ground and defended their democracy."

He acknowledged, however, that not all Iraqi forces performed as well as others, and said there were reports that some forces in eastern Iraq had let insurgents pass by unimpeded.

Who do you think is winning the PR war? Now I understand why the administration believes that it's possible to win the war by simply arguing that it is being won. Nothing is real, no blood has been shed, no corpses have been found. It's all about images and who talks the loudest. Horrible.

On Harems And Toyboys

A good starting point for a feminist discussion of polygyny is the Walt Disney treatment of lion prides. Lion prides consist of several female lions and one male lion, and Disney's take on this is that the male lion, the King of the Jungle, runs a harem. He is the boss, at least until a stronger male comes along and chases him away, and the female lions do all the work for him, including getting his lunch every day. A familiar fantasy.

Now turn this fantasy on its head. Instead of a harem with a kingly male running it, what if we have a group of sister lions who run busy lives hunting and caring for cubs. What if these sisters don't really want to bother with lots of extra work just for the sake of sex and so they decide to run just one toyboy between them. They might not really care which toyboy that is, so if another male comes and beats the one they currently have, well, they swop. It makes no difference to them.

Why would the first one become the story Disney disseminates and not the second one? As far as I can tell we really don't know how lions decide on their family formation, so the second story might be closer to the truth. But it's further away from the sexual dreams of whoever wrote the Disney story.

Human harems are most appealing to a certain type of Western mind. The idea of this secluded space filled with a great variety of sex! And all for one man's pleasure. Real world harems are very different from this daydream, I've learned from reading books on the topic written by people from countries who actually used to have harems. Harems were (or are) the spaces of the women in the family. Many of their denizens were old aunties and grandmothers and so on, and the power in harems was often held by one of these old women. What went on in some of these harems, especially the royal ones, was nothing short of the power plays that ran whole countries. It was still true, of course, that the inhabitants of the harems couldn't leave and couldn't wield power openly.

But all this has very little to do with the mythical harem of the Western imagination or the similar appeal that polygyny has. This appeal deserves to be studied, analyzed and dissected, and I propose to do just that in this post. The time is ripe for such an analysis, what with the new television sitcom on the topic and the wingnut arguments that allowing same-sex marriage will inevitably lead to not just animal-man marriages but to polygyny and then the liberals will cry because polygyny will be a punishment for all those uppity women who would let gays and lesbians destroy the holy institution of matrimony. Some on the left, on the other hand, equate polygyny with polyamorous relationships and welcome it with open arms as yet another way to stick it to the patriarchal monogamous marriage.

Traditional polygyny is a family structure in which one man marries several women. Each woman has a sexual relationship with the one man, but the women are not supposed to have sexual relationships with each other or people outside the marriage. Whether the one man is allowed to have extramarital sex on top of his family obligations depends on specific circumstances. A polyamorous relationship might include polygyny as a subcase, but it is more common to view all individuals in a polyamorous relationship as entitled to have multiple partners, either within the loose definition of the polyamorous family or outside it. Or so I understand the term.

A polygyny has two aspects which appeal to a certain type of male mind. The first is the sexual variety it offers, the abundance, if you like. The second, and probably the more important one to many, is the power imbalance in a polygyny. Think of this thought experiment: Suppose that a perfectly equal monogamous marriage between a man and a woman has power shares (never mind what these are) which equal one half for each partner and add up to one total. If the couple decided to add a third partner to the relationship and wanted to keep the relationship still equal, the new partner would be given one third of the total power and the initial partners would each keep a third of the power. Adding a fourth member would drop the power coefficients to one fourth each and so on. See how power gets diluted in an egalitarian arrangement of this kind?

But this doesn't happen in the traditional polygyny. It is as if the originally egalitarian couple with their one half coefficients added another woman and then the man would still have one half but now the two women would split the half coefficient resulting in only one fourth of the total power for each and so on. Or even more realistically, the man can keep almost all of the total power however many women he adds to the marriage. Now that's what is really appealing about polygyny to some men.

And that is also what is repulsive about the arrangement to feminists. It is not the group nature of the arrangement but the relative powerlessness of the female spouses that bother us. If a man with, say, seven wives held only one eighth of the total power in the marriage and each of the seven wives held the same amount of power I'd be fine with that.

But this is unlikely to happen in the traditional polygyny because of the inherent inequality of the relationship: each woman essentially only has a fraction of a husband, including of his time, affection and parental resources, and the man can play each wife against the other wives. This is made even worse by the property and divorce laws of the countries which have practised polygyny as these usually discriminate against women, essentially depriving her of all escapes from the marriage arrangement.

What of the counterarguments to this feminist disapproval of polygyny? Isn't a good liberal supposed to let women enter a polygynous relationship of this powerless type if they wish to do so? Sure. But have a look at the average age of marriage for women in the Mormon group marriages, for example. These women are married off at an age when they are not really even women yet, and the same is true of some islamic polygynous systems. Children are not capable of making informed choices about giving away their powers. Children also don't have the training to fend for themselves in any other way, and children don't always realize that they do have other opportunities.

Or what about the argument that John Tierney makes, too, the one about how feminist polygynous marriages can be because there is always another wife to care for your children so that a career-ambitious woman doesn't have to feel guilty about her long days at the office? This one is an easy one to dispense with: it is not the polygyny that conveys these advantages but the socialized form of childrearing. The same could be offered by any arrangement in which mothers with children live together with other mothers with children. In any case, feminists wanted to have fathers more involved with their children, not less involved, and that is what this seems to advocate.

Then there is the old thesis that polygyny is really for the benefit of women, because in traditional societies it allows women to climb up the social ladders by becoming not the sole wife of a poor man but the seventieth of a rich one. Isn't that swell! It's a funny way of thinking: First, have a social system which discriminates against women. Then, explain its aspects by pointing out that women benefit if they behave in the way the system sanctions, though only in comparison to what would happen to them if they didn't obey.

What about the modern version of polygamy and polygyny, then, the polyamorous relationship? Would that be ok to a stalinistic feminazi like myself? Or would it really destroy the remaining vestiges of the tradition of marriage as Stanley Kurtz argues? It's too early to tell how such relationships would work out in practice, but I suspect that Kurtz's fear is unwarranted. Running such a web of relationships will end up being far too much like hard work for most of us.

Censuring the President

Senator Rush Feingold has written a diary for Kos on why he is doing this. I believe that he is right to do it, though it may not matter in the political game. If you agree about the rightness of this move, call your senators to support Feingold. He is sticking his head out, after all, and that is what we want from the Democrats: spine.

My Three Husbands

I am polyandrous. One husband has the advantage of a well-paying job, one is really handy around the house and an excellent cook and the third One is a lovely ebony, one blond and sky-eyed and one a warm golden tone all over. I never get bored. --It makes no sense for goddesses to be monogamous, but you shouldn't try this at home.

Just kidding, of course. I was trying to get into the ebullient mood some guys develop when they write about polygamy, the reverse situation of one man with many wives. Even when the talk is about the general practice of polygamy, these men write about it from the lecherous angle. Really. And from that angle polygamy is a Good Thing. But because some readers of this writing might be women who wouldn't take kindly to their being boxed by sexual skill levels and skin color and so on, this Good Thing gets hidden under stuff about how good polygamy really is for women, sort of.

John Tierney does this in his recent New York Times column, probably provoked by the new sitcom, "Big Love", about a man with three wives:

Some opponents of polygamy call it the exploitation of women by rich men, and that's true if the wives are coerced into the marriages. But many wives have willingly chosen it, like the three women on "Big Love," who have married a successful businessman.

These three wives, who live in adjacent houses, sound much like the women in polygamous marriages I've talked to in rural Africa. The African wives told me they had mixed feelings about the arrangement — and their fellow wives — but over all, they figured it was better to share one prosperous husband than to marry someone else without land, cows or a job.

That's the way social scientists figure it, too. Polygamy isn't the cause of women's low status in traditional societies, but rather a consequence of their trying to move up. The biggest losers from polygamy are the poorer men who end up with no wives. Women benefit because polygamy increases their number of marriage prospects — and in traditional societies, marriage is often the only way for a woman to improve her status.

As an aside, it is bad research to assume that a sitcom proves anything about a social phenomenom, John. For Chrissake, those women are actors who go home every night, they are not actually all married to the male actor.

Not as an aside, isn't it interesting how quickly in this quote polygamy turned from an exploitative practice into something women do to "better themselves"! It's like saying that if I'm imprisoned even though I'm innocent, the system is good for me if I manage to convert a ten-year sentence into a three-year one by bargaining smartly.

This long preamble is to point out that polygamy appeals to some men because it lets them imagine a world where they have an unending supply of willing bed partners and nobody will tell them off for that. The fact that a truly polygamous society would leave the majority of men without anyone to warm their bed is ignored, because somehow no man is going to be in that large losing group. Though Tierney does admit this as a slight problem with polygamy. Well, not a slight one. He thinks it's the worst thing about polygamy!

It's all quite funny. Maybe I should get more serious for the rest of this post. Let's try.

Polygamy is actually the term for a group marriage where one man or one woman is married to more than one person of the other sex at the same time. Polygyny, the case where one man is married to several women, is more common than the opposite practice of polyandry, where one woman has several husbands. Polygyny is sanctioned by the Koran for muslim men who are allowed to have up to four wives. I don't think that the Koran bans polyandry, but the interpreters of Koran have decided that women are not allowed to have multiple husbands. Polygyny is also still common in many African countries, though it is fairly rare everywhere in terms of actual numbers of practitioners because having many wives is expensive for men in traditional societies.

Some Mormons in the United States also practise polygyny, despite the fact that the Mormon church no longer sanctions it.

Polyandry is fairly rare today. It is practised in the mountainous regions of Nepal where brothers may take one wife in common. The reasons are to do with the amount of adult labor that is needed in the harsh climate to bring up a family and perhaps also with the high local maternal mortality rates which distorts the ratio of women to men from equality. More generally, polygamy may have been a solution to distorted sex ratios. For example, the Koran stipulation about how many wives a man may take was created at a time when warfare had killed large numbers of men and therefore left their wives widows.

In normal conditions the numbers of men and women are fairly equal. This means that polygamy of either kind will leave at least some individuals without marriage partners altogether, and may explain why polygamy is unlikely to become more common. But polygamy also suffers from additional problems. Some studies show that children born into polygamous marriages in Africa suffer from worse health than children of monogamous marriages, even though the polygamous families are wealthier. It could be that the intrafamily competition between the offspring of different mothers might be the cause or it could be that a fraction of a wealthy father's resources is less than all of a poorer father's resources.

Then there are the psychological difficulties of keeping polygynous relationships peaceful. The common solution appears to be to house each wife in a separate household. This is expensive, and it also means that the children will only see their father occasionally.

Is that enough cold water poured over any man who dreams about lording it as the man with many wives? I doubt it. That's why I'm going to write a second post all about the feminist analysis of polygamy.